Homeschooling in the elementary years can be both scary and exciting. It can be scary because you may not be sure what methods and materials will work for your family, but exciting too, because there are endless possibilities to explore. For sure, whatís great about the elementary years is being able to establish a foundation of good habits that you can build on for the rest of your homeschooling experience.
Something I truly appreciate in the homeschooling community is the way in which moms honestly share what has worked for them and what hasnít. The following is a list of habits that formed the foundation of our homeschooling experience. My hope is that you find something on which you and your family can build.
"Establishing a Routine" habit
One of the most helpful habits to develop in the elementary years is to establish some kind of routine for your day and your week. Whether you begin your day with chores, math or whatever you choose, it is best to make a routine and stick with it. While you may have unexpected interruptions, if you have an established daily routine, you can simply bounce back into it the following day. It also helps to have a routine for the week. From the start of our homeschooling years, Friday was the day my husband taught. If he happened to be out of town, we made it our game or fieldtrip day. So, no matter whether he taught or not, Fridays were always special for our children.
For young kids especially, not having a routine can cause confusion and become a real time waster. It may take some experimenting to figure out what would work best for your situation, but do establish some kind of daily and weekly routine. If you do this throughout your elementary years, chances are better that your children will want to establish their own routines as they become more independent learners.
"Quiet time" habit
From day one, our homeschool routine started with what we began to call "Quiet Time." We borrowed the phrase from our mission trip experiences where team members would take a few minutes in the morning to pray, worship, or read the Bible before beginning the dayís tasks.
In kindergarten, we began the day with all of us praying together. As our children grew and learned to read, we gave them a few minutes at the start of each day for time alone with God. We expanded their time a little each year until high school when it had become an engrained habit. They were then in charge of how long a time they would spend.
Over the years, our "Quiet Times" were different. Sometimes we memorized scriptures or a passage, other times we listened to praise music. We also used various devotionals we thought would address some of the needs our children had as they were maturing spiritually. This habit helped bring peace and reflection into our lives Ė both necessary ingredients for dealing with conflicts that can often arise when family members spend so much time together. Because Christian discipleship was one of our main goals in deciding to homeschool, this "Quiet Time" habit was essential for us.
I think we are one of the few homeschooling families I know that donít own at least ten ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall bookshelves. Perhaps it is because the library system in Louisville, Kentucky, where we first homeschooled, had a tremendous amount of great books. I never had a problem finding any of the elementary level books that were recommended at the fairs I attended. This started us on our weekly "library" habit.
Not only did we leave the library each week with a basketful of books, but we became good friends with our librarians. They bent over backwards to find books not in their system and sometimes even broke the rules for us if our books were overdue. The same happened when we moved to Georgia. My children and I ended up volunteering for a year at our local library. It was a great experience for my elementary-aged children to be able to help sort and shelve books. Regular visits to the library became an enduring habit for our children who still love it. (Someday I should tally up what it would have cost to buy all those books.)
"Life is school" habit
Shortly after we started kindergarten with our oldest child, we were invited on a mission trip to Romania. Because it was such a great opportunity to serve the church and experience life in another culture, we took off (with our 5 and 3-year-old) for six weeks. It was the kind of fieldtrip most children donít get to take in elementary school.
From the start we wanted our children to understand that learning and schooling donít necessarily take place in a building for only a specified amount of time. I think it was my husband who started saying, "Life is school and school is life." We wanted our children to love learning for the simple joy of learning. We stressed that book learning is only one type of way to learn.
For the trip each of our children took a little red satchel that our friend had given them for "school" supplies. They carried pencils, crayons, paper, a deck of cards, some dice, and a few other sundries. With my one-page scope and sequence in tow, we continued our lessons in reading, writing, and math as we experienced life in Romania. During those weeks our kids learned to sing songs in Romanian and play chess. Learning took place as we experienced life.
That was only the beginning of the many other trips we took with our children during "school." We took every opportunity that we could to learn about other cultures, places, and historical events. Developing the habit of seeing school and life as seamless experiences helps children develop a thirst for learning that doesnít run dry.
In the spirit of our "school is life" philosophy, we also included chores. Life always includes work. (Our son now says we should have called it the "job" habit because a job is something you take responsibility for as an adult.) While we had tremendous adventures during our homeschooling years, we also made chores a core part of our daily and weekly happenings. This habit is easiest to establish in the elementary years, when kids love to see their names on everything including laundry baskets and even cleaning supplies.
One of the approaches we took to help our children take responsibility for their chores was to provide them with their own tools or equipment. For example, each of our children had a separate part of the bathroom to clean, so we put their names on the different supplies. They also had their own plastic gloves. It makes us all smile now when we remember how happy our kids were to get their very own baskets of cleaners and sponges. Truthfully, they werenít quite as enthusiastic about chores in their later years, but it helped to have the habit firmly in place.
"No comparison" habit
This last habit is perhaps one of the most important that sustained us throughout the years. It is based on one of my favorite scriptures, II Corinthians 10:12 "ÖBut they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (NKJV)
While I loved reading books about homeschooling, going to homeschooling conferences, and gleaning from older women who homeschooled, I took heed of this Word from God, knowing that to compare myself with others would often bring discouragement and disillusion. I developed the habit of not comparing myself or our family to anyone else. I tried to hear Godís voice alone for direction and instruction in what he had called us to do. It was a conscious choice I had to make hour by hour, day after day, week by week, month by month, and year after year. It kept us free to do and to be what God had ordained for us.
Developing these habits while your children are still in the elementary years can help you stay on track and hear Godís voice clearer than you may have ever heard it before.
Vivian Padilla-Chapman began homeschooling in 1991. Her son, Daniel, entered Georgia Tech as a Presidentís Scholar the fall of 2004. Her daughter, Sara, graduated in last May and is at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii. Vivian has written articles for The Motherís Heart online magazine. Her work has also appeared on Crosswalk.com. Vivianís passion is encouraging families to seek God for wisdom and direction in fulfilling His will for the lives of their children. You can contact her at